Huge restorations and good planning to be honored with Preservation Achievement Award

A community planning study and park signage join more traditional bricks-and-mortar projects on the list of Preservation Achievement Awards to be presented May 17 in the Crystal Tea Room of the historic Wanamaker Building.

The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia had a wealth of candidates to choose from this year, explained executive director John Gallery. While the Alliance used to present 10 awards, it chose 21 winners this year from a pool of 35 candidates. 

“It’s an indication of how important preservation is as an economic activity, creating construction jobs and all that. And some of them are incredibly impressive,” Gallery said, citing two of the largest projects that will be awarded.

One was the rehabilitation of the Philadelphia Main Post Office building, 2970 Market St., a $300 million renovation by Brandywine Realty Trust that accounted for 5,000 jobs.

The other high-profile project that will be honored is the Baptist Temple restoration by Temple University on the Broad Street campus.

Some of the more unusual award winners this year did not involve the preservation of real estate projects. “One of the most interesting was the Delaware County Public History Feasibility Study and Implementation Plan,” Gallery said. “The county was trying to take an overview of what are the really important things that they need to preserve. It was a public sector, community-initiated planning strategy. It would be nice to do that here in Philadelphia sometime. We gave them an award because it really is the type of work by a public agency that sets up the priorities for preservation of historic resources on a fairly large scale.”

Another unusual and creative project recognized by the Alliance is the Fairmount Water Works and Park Sculpture Signage, created Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. “We look for those types of projects that involve planning, policy and interpretation of historic places,” Gallery said.

Among the smaller building projects, the restoration of the Jayne House, 19th and Delancey Sts., built in 1895 by Frank Furness, is among Gallery’s favorites. The house has gone through a variety of occupants, including Jacob Lit of Lit Brothers, and different uses, including office space. John Milner Architects performed a “beautiful restoration job. Is it the finest Furness house in the city?

“There are only three, so it’s a small contest. But it is a really important house, and to turn it into a single-family residence was pretty phenomenal.”

Gallery is also impressed by the transformation of the former Presser Home for Retired Music Teachers, built in 1914, into the Presser Senior Apartments. A few years ago, a nondenominational church had purchased and planned to demolish the property on West Johnson Street in Mt. Airy. But a coalition of community groups, backed by the Preservation Alliance, opposed the church plan and obtained historic protection for the building. The church group backed out and sold the property. A developer, Nolen Properties, “came along and struggled for years, and I take my hat off to this guy because he stuck with this project,” Gallery said. 

The apartments are opened and occupied, and Nolen is now working on the beautiful Nugent Home for Baptists next door. “To get the two of those buildings back in use would just be amazing. Just having the one done is a great accomplishment,” Gallery said.

Among the individuals who will be honored is Nicholas L. Gianopulos, who will receive the Alliance’s James Biddle Award for lifetime achievement in historic preservation. “I think everyone would say he is the dean of structural engineers when it comes to historic preservation,” Gallery said. Gianopulos was a founding partner of the Keast & Hood Co., and has worked on many of the large landmark buildings in Philadelphia.

“He’s the guy who determined the trusses in the Academy of Music were in a state of collapse, and they actually evicted the audience when he came down from an inspection and told them what he saw,” Gallery recalled. Gianopulos then managed the restoration process of the Academy and finished it in a matter of weeks.

The Alliance will also present three Community Action Awards at the May ceremony. 

The Callowhill Neighborhood Association will be cited for organizing community support for the preservation of the 19th century Church of the Assumption, 1123-33 Spring Garden St. 

Nathaniel Guest and the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance will be honored for trying to find ways to save at least some part of the former hospital and create a memorial that recognizes disability issues.

The Township of Delanco, N.J., will be honored for the township commissioners’ decision to save the 1910 Zurbrugg Mansion, which was one of Furness’ last commissions. “I think they did a remarkable thing,” Gallery explained. “They stepped in at a point after it had been vacant for a decade, and they bought it because they felt it was such an important property.” A developer converted the mansion and carriage house into a senior apartment community, added a few townhouses, and kept some of the land on the Delaware waterfront for public open space. 

Other 2011 Preservation Achievement Award winners are:

  • Christ Church Neighborhood House, Christ Church Preservation Trust
  • Greenwood Cemetery House at Rush Farms, Knights of Pythias Greenwood Cemetery
  • Le Meridien Hotel, HEI Hotels
  • Mercy Family Center, Mercy Neighborhood Ministries
  • Norristown Farm Park, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
  • Old Mortality Sculptural Group, Laurel Hill Cemetery Company
  • Old Town Hall, Delaware Historical Society
  • Richard Humphreys Hall, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania
  • SEPTA Regional Rail Stations Improvement Project, SEPTA
  • Stenton Avenue Bridge, PennDot District 6-0
  • St. Peter’s Churchyard, Historic St. Peter’s Church Preservation Corp.
  • St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, St. Stephan’s Episcopal Church
  • Trolley Car Café at the Bathey House, Philadelphia Parks & Restoration
  • Wagner Free Institute of Science, Wagner Free Institute of Science
  • Warden’s House, County of Burlington, N.J.

Other winners are Scott Wilds, Public Service Award; Germantown Friends School, Rhoda and Permar Richards Award; Unkefer Brothers Construction Co., Board of Directors Award; and Amerimar Enterprises, Special Recognition for stewardship of the Wanamaker Building.

Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

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